Tuesday, September 29, 2015


The U.S. isn't the only place where moviemakers have polished up comic-book heroes for new cinematic life. In Japan, Toei released Koichi Sakamoto's update of a character created in the 1960s by manga legend Shotaro Ishinomori to commemorate Ishinomori's 75th birthday. 009-1 seems to have been a "mature audiences" conceptual spinoff of Ishinomori's better-known Cyborg 009 series. Maybe he had a lucky number.009-1 became a live-action TV show and an anime series in the 21st century. Sakamoto's film is an even more "mature audiences" take on the concept, though one of its more hair-raising elements, the machine guns built into the title-character's cybernetic boobs, apparently was there from the beginning. While Hollywood often tries to legitimize comic-book subject matter by making it "serious" to a sometimes-oppressive extent, Japan apparently upgrades similar material for adult audiences by making it kinkier.


Ishinomori imagined a bipolar world divided between East and West in which "J-country" is a neutral zone in which agents for both sides operate. Mylene Hoffman (Mayuko Iwasa) is Agent 009-1, investigating a human-trafficking ring. We see she's a cool customer early on; when the trafficking kingpin arbitrarily kills a niteclub waiter for serving an improperly-cooked steak, 009, disguised as a dancer, is the only girl still dancing afte the gunshot while the others cower on the stage floor. That gets the bad guy's attention. He takes her off for sex, arousing his moll's jealousy, after which 009 kills him, arousing the moll's lust for revenge. While routing the traffickers, 009 rescues a young man, Chris (Minehiro Kinomoto), who hums a tune that stirs long-buried memories in Mylene. She flashes back to childhood, when the tune was a lullaby hummed by her mother, whose face she can't remember, to Mylene and her brother. 009 falls in love with Chris, apparently not guessing what audiences ought to have figured out immediately, but there's other stuff going on they won't have guessed.


Above: Mylene dances with herself
Below: Busted.

The bad guys are after 009-1's mentor and maker, Dr. Klein (Aya Sugimoto). After 009 rescues the doctor, a seemingly superpowered female fighter, possibly another cyborg, appears to reclaim her, routing Mylene and everything else in her path. Botching her assignment in her distracted state gets 009 in trouble with her bosses, but she resolves to rescue Klein again and learn more about her past. She won't like what she learns.

009-1 gets a mechanical tongue bath, or do robots identify people by taste?

Suffice it to say that Mylene is in for some jarring revelations until nearly everything she thought she knew is proven wrong. Worst of all is the revelation of Chris's true identity and his true agenda. How bad is it? Let me assure you that building an incestuous lesbian robot is only the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Klein is determined not to be outdone, however. She distinguishes herself among modern mad scientists with her theory that cyborgs stacked with superweapons will be surpassed by undead mutants (in Japanese, "undead mutants"). The film distinguishes itself among modern mad movies by theorizing that Mylene, a cyborg, can telepathically read the minds of undead mutants. Their thoughts run along the lines of "please kill me," which would seem to prove Dr. Klein wrong, along with 009-1's ability to beat them all single-handedly. This is a film in which undead mutants are only preliminary adversaries, for there remains an uncomfortable reckoning with Mylene's dismal excuse for a family, with an exploding helicopter thrown in in case that gets dull....


On this evidence, the Japanese feel no need to legitimize comic-book stories by throwing money at them. End of the Beginning has the production values of a CW genre show, or slightly less. With most of the film's imagination spent on its icky plot, the action is unimaginatively staged and set mostly in the drab warehouse world of the B picture. CGI blood flows aplenty while a CGI helicopter is added to a background in order to explode on contact with a flying combatant, after which the filmmakers seem to forget that there should still be a burning hulk in some scenes. For all its theoretical transgressiveness, the picture proves strangely reticent about showing 009-1's deadliest weapons from the front.  End of the Beginning really does only two things successfully. It often fills the screen with attractive women, and that lullaby is one hell of an earwig. I watched this film a week ago and it's still looping through my brain. At the very least, this picture is a memorable experience. Whether you'll enjoy the memories is up to you.

No comments: